Kelowna city councillors’ regular electronic participation in council meetings will soon be entirely at the discretion of the mayor.
Council endorsed amendments to Kelowna’s council procedures bylaw on Monday, now pending final approval.
In part, the changes cap virtual attendance of councillors to two consecutive meetings, unless they receive special permission from the mayor. Councillors’ virtual attendance and participation in meetings have been a mainstay in Kelowna’s civic procedures since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit more than 18 months ago. Coun. Charlie Hodge, who is immunocompromised with Stage 4 emphysema, has appeared via video for every single meeting since.
“Until there’s less concern over COVID, I’m really reluctant to come into that building,” Hodge said, again via video, during the meeting.
City clerk Stephen Fleming said the bylaw likely wouldn’t impact the current precautions council is taking related to public health. Instead, they’re meant to be forward-looking, limiting councillors’ participation in meetings from outside chambers post-pandemic.
Coun. Loyal Wooldridge was the lone vote against the bylaw amendment, saying that the approval of online participation should not be solely the choice of whoever is in the mayor’s chair, but rather council as a whole.
“Again, that has nothing to do with this council or your (Mayor Colin Basran’s) leadership, I have absolute trust there,” said Wooldridge.
Coun. Brad Sieben also expressed his fear that future mayors could use the power inappropriately, mentioning it could be weaponized during instances of infighting between a mayor and a councillor.
“You do wonder, would there ever be an autocratic style of mayor who wouldn’t allow that to happen?” Sieben asked.
Fleming said if a mayor disallows a councillor’s electronic participation request inappropriately, other councillors could table a motion to overrule the mayor’s decision.
Other changes include continuing to allow the public to participate virtually in meetings post-pandemic.
“I’ve, for a long time, had some challenges with people having to stay in the gallery for hours upon hours for their one item and it’s always seemed kind of harsh,” said Coun. Luke Stack.
“They can now be home and join the meeting at the appropriate time. To me, this is a great opening of council to our community.”